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Dublin: 12°C Sunday 9 May 2021

Man United ride their luck in Chelsea win

The Red Devils revived their Champions League hopes with a win over their top-four rivals.

Harry Maguire was fortunate not to be sent off, before scoring the second goal.
Harry Maguire was fortunate not to be sent off, before scoring the second goal.
Image: Nigel French

IT’S BEEN A season of false dawns for Man United.

Their 4-0 opening day win over Chelsea was followed by draws with Wolves and Southampton, as well as a loss at home to Crystal Palace.

Back-to-back victories over Tottenham and Man City occurred prior to a draw with Everton and a loss to relegation-threatened Watford.

So fans of the club will be reluctant to get too carried away after tonight’s victory over the Blues.

It was just their second victory at Stamford Bridge in their last 18 Premier League visits there.

Had they lost, they would have found themselves nine points behind Frank Lampard’s men and hopes of Champions League football looking at best remote.

Now, however, they find themselves in seventh and trailing fourth-place Chelsea by three, while finishing fifth might even be enough, should Man City’s Champions League ban next season be upheld.

Yet while the Red Devils deserve credit for coming out on top of this tense, must-win encounter, the performance wasn’t entirely convincing.

There were just four shots on target in total over the course of the 90 minutes — with United scoring two of their three.

In the equivalent fixture 10 years ago, Chelsea went with Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka up front, while United had Wayne Rooney close to his peak.

Tonight, Chelsea had Michy Batshuayi leading the attack in his first start for over two years, while United were relying upon Anthony Martial, a player who often flatters to deceive.

It was tempting to conclude that the forwards lining out were a measure of how far both sides had fallen in recent times, a feeling backed up for much of a dour first half, as the two teams looked equally toothless in attack.

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Nevertheless, the much-maligned Martial came alive on the brink of half-time, producing a fantastic header from Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s excellent cross to put his side in front.

If Harry Maguire’s powerful header in the second half to double United’s advantage didn’t break Chelsea’s spirit, two subsequent goals ruled out by the tightest of VAR calls patently did.

Right from the outset thought, it felt it was going to be United’s night.

The Red Devils haven’t always been blessed with good luck this season — injuries to key players Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford earlier in the campaign have proved costly — but fortune favoured them this evening.

Chelsea started the game without their top scorer, Tammy Abraham, who was unavailable through injury. Another one of their best players, N’Golo Kante, went off injured after 12 minutes.

While both goal decisions looked just about correct, the call not to send off Maguire was much more contentious, after he appeared to kick out at Batshuayi.

The player claimed afterwards he was simply protecting himself from his opponent collapsing on him, but even two former United players commenting on Sky — Gary Neville and Roy Keane — both suggested the England defender was a lucky boy.

So on the evidence of tonight, neither of these sides look assured of the coveted Champions League spot, but United will certainly take heart from the performance, with some clinical finishing complemented by an especially impressive defensive display in which their opponents were frequently made to look ordinary.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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